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Hans Caspar Syz papers

Call Number: MS 1624

Scope and Contents

The Hans Caspar Syz papers document Syz's career as a psychiatrist and scholar, and highlight his research and professional activities as secretary (1927-1950) and president (1951-1991) of the Lifwynn Foundation. Through Syz's extensive correspondence, notes, reflections and writings, the papers document the development of the foundation from its inception as an experimental community in 1923, through many changes in its mandate and membership, until Syz's death in 1991. They chronicle Syz's efforts to publicize and promote the foundation's alternative approaches to mental health and interpersonal conflict. Researchers interested in the establishment and work of the Foundation will find it helpful to use this collection in conjunction with the Trigant Burrow Papers and the Lifwynn Foundation Records in Manuscripts and Archives.

The papers are organized into six series. Aside from Series VI, Ceramics files, which relates to Syz's activities as a prominent ceramics collector, the papers all relate to Syz's activities as a psychiatrist. General Files, Series I, which includes correspondence and memoranda of meetings documents Syz's contacts in the psychiatric and psychoanalytic communities. Series II, Notes, and III, Writings and Research Materials, which constitute one half of the collection, traces Syz's intellectual development, both in conjunction with and independent from Burrow. Series IV, Clinical Files, consists primarily of case notes and clinical observations, which document the traditional approaches to psychiatric work Syz encountered in hospital clinics in Baltimore and New York. Series V, Lifwynn Foundation Files, record the day-to day administration and ongoing research of the foundation and its staff.

There is only a small amount of material in the papers representing Syz's years as a medical student in Zürich, Munich and Geneva. Limited correspondence with Alfred Alder, Eugen Bleuler, Ludwig Binswanger and Oskar Pfister documents Syz's contacts and interests during this period (Series I). Syz's book Of Being and Of Meaning is based upon philosophical and mystical reflections recorded during his years in Switzerland. Notes from this period can be found in Series II, while manuscripts for the book are found in Series III. Syz's psychophysiological research, psychiatric practice and instruction under Adolf Meyer at the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins University is documented in Series III and IV.

Several sources of information outline Syz's own professional affiliations. Series V contains a compilation of biographical data on Syz. Series IV and several correspondence files in Series I document Syz's work in major New York hospitals. Conference notes found in Series V give an indication of Syz's involvement with numerous professional organizations, as do the correspondence files pertaining to these organizations in Series I.

There are numerous sources for researchers interested in the establishment, ideals and early activities of Burrow's experimental community in Series I, II, and V. Correspondence in Series I, Syz's autobiographical notes in Series II, and staff papers and inter-office correspondence of Series V depict a closely-knit and highly dedicated group of students and staff. In the first two decades of the Lifwynn Foundation's life, these included Trigant Burrow and his family, Charles Shields (associate), Charles Baker Thompson (associate), Alfreda Payson Sill (student and manager of facilities), her daughter Alfreda Sill Galt (student, later Secretary), her husband William Egleston Galt (associate), Miriam Bredow (staff), Rosalind Bruce (student), Aimee and Flora Guggenheimer (students and volunteers), Nelly Holljes (student) and Florence Weingartner (staff).

The activities of the foundation during the 1950s can be traced through the work of two active associates, Lloyd Gilden and Björn Merker, in files in series I and IV. The foundation's work to systematically distribute Burrow's publications, as well as their own interpretations and extensions of his work, can be seen in correspondence with numerous individuals and communities concerned with psychosocial interventions in intergroup conflict. Syz's colleague Alfreda Galt, who succeeded him as secretary of the foundation, initiated much of this correspondence, which is filed in Series V. For correspondence documenting the attention paid to Burrow's work in the late 1950s by a new generation of psychologists and therapists interested in group processes, consult the files in Series I for discussions with colleagues such as Alfred Korzybski, J.L. Moreno, S.H. Foulkes, Nathan Ackerman, and Nina Bull. These files shed light on Burrow's influence on fields such as family therapy and group psychoanalysis.


The Hans Caspar Syz Papers were a gift of the estate of Hans Syz. Manuscripts and Archives appreciates the work done by Penny White of the Lifwynn Foundation, who initially organized the papers and prepared them for transfer to Yale University.

Funding for the processing of these papers was made possible through the generosity of the estate of Hans Syz.


  • 1911-1991


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Materials in Boxes 77 and 78 and folder 91 in CF5 are restricted until June 1, 2026 for reasons of privacy.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by Stephen B. Syz and John D. Syz for materials authored or otherwise produced by their father Hans Syz. Requests for permission to publish should be directed to Stephan B. Syz. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the estate of Hans Syz, 1992-1994. Gift of Dr. Lloyd Gilden, 2017.


The papers are arranged in six series: I. General Files, 1917-1991. II. Notes, 1915-1982, n.d. III. Writings and Research Materials, 1911-1987, n.d. IV. Clinical Files, 1922-1981, n.d. V. Lifwynn Foundation Files, 1912-1988, n.d. VI. Ceramics Files, 1942-1990, n.d.; and one addition.

Related material

Trigant Burrow Papers (MS 1370). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Lifwynn Foundation Records (MS 1681). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.


36.96 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, reading notes, writings and research materials relating primarily to Hans C. Syz's career as secretary and president of the Lifwynn Foundation. The papers provide information on the formation and development of the Lifwynn Foundation, as well as research and writing by staff members and students. Syz's work as a psychiatrist in New York and Baltimore hospitals is also documented, as are his activities as a collector of 18th-century Western European porcelain.

Biographical / Historical

Hans Caspar Syz, M.D., was born on August 1, 1894, in Zürich, Switzerland, to John and Clara Schindler Syz. He studied medicine at universities in Zürich, Munich and Geneva. He became certified to practice medicine at Zürich and received his doctoral degree through the Institute of Anatomical Pathology at the University of Geneva in 1921. While working as an assistant physician at the University Hospital of Zürich (1920-1921), he specialized in internal medicine and psychiatry. He became interested in psychoanalysis while an analysand of Oskar Pfister in Switzerland. He moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1921 and obtained U.S. citizenship in 1929. Although the United States remained his primary residence, he maintained close personal, professional and business contacts in Switzerland, France, Germany, and Italy.

Under Adolf Meyer, Syz began work at the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1922. He was engaged in both clinical work and research in experimental psychology and taught at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. Here Syz met Trigant Burrow, initiating a long friendship and intellectual collaboration. Burrow, who had studied with Carl Jung and would serve as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association (1925-1926), held an adjunct position at Johns Hopkins at the time.

Starting in 1924, Syz participated in the experimental group-analytic summer camps organized by Burrow in Merrill County, in New York's Adirondack Mountains. In 1927, as an outgrowth of these community meetings, Burrow established the Lifwynn Foundation for Laboratory Research in Analytic and Social Psychiatry. The foundation acquired a permanent research and administration staff and occupied two offices, in New York and Connecticut. Syz's considerable financial contribution was crucial to both the establishment and maintenance of the foundation.

Conceived as a `living laboratory,' the approximately twenty participants of the summer camps were to study their daily interactions in order to shed light on the `noxious' social processes that they believed to be the root of individual neuroses. The research during the foundation's first decade represents an early attempt to enlarge the methods of psychoanalysis to include group interaction, predating mid-century studies of group dynamics and family therapy. The participants, led by Burrow and Syz, came to the conclusion that what their contemporaries identified as normal social roles and behaviors were unauthentic and pathogenic. Convinced that `normal' socialization entailed a divisive individualism and fostered interpersonal aggression (such as that witnessed in World War I), they attempted in these sessions to alter their patterns of interaction. On the basis of these sessions, Burrow proposed a group approach to psychotherapy and social conflict he called 'phyloanalysis'. He and Syz continued to develop and refine this approach in several publications.

Syz moved his practice to New York in 1927 and divided his time between research and administration at the foundation and psychiatric work at several New York hospitals. While the foundation would become Syz's primary research affiliation, he maintained an active involvement in both private and outpatient clinical practice. Between 1930 and 1962 he served in a number of clinics, including the Child Guidance Clinic of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Payne Whitney and General Medical Outpatient departments in the New York Hospital, as well as instructing in psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College. He was also an active member in numerous professional and academic organizations. In 1939, Syz married Emily Burrow, the daughter of Dr. Trigant Burrow. They resided near the Lifwynn Foundation in Westport, Connecticut and had two sons, John Devereux (b. 1941), and Stephan Bryan (b. 1947).

The phyloanalytic approach advanced by the Lifwynn Foundation did not gain the broader audience that its members had anticipated, and Burrow was excluded from normal professional circles. Syz remained the foundation's primary interface with mainstream psychiatry and psychology, and his talks at conventions often featured presentations and interpretations of Burrow's thought and research methods. Despite his productivity, with the outbreak of WWII, Syz became somewhat disillusioned with the ability of the foundation's research to effect large-scale social change. His research turned towards more microscopic and physiologically-grounded processes. In collaboration with other staff members, he sought physiological correlates (in, for instance, eye movement, breathing, heart rate, galvanic skin response, muscle tone) to different states of awareness. This research had a social component in so far as it aimed to reduce interpersonal tension by affecting its basis in physiological habits. One instrument he helped develop, the Lifwynn eye camera, is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

In the 1950s the Lifwynn Foundation was dealt a severe blow by the deaths of several founding members, including Clarence Shields (1951), Trigant Burrow (1950) and William Galt (1954). In 1951, at the age of fifty-four, Syz assumed the position of president of the foundation, a position he held for approximately forty years. Syz and other surviving members first occupied themselves with editing and publishing unfinished work by Burrow and Galt. Syz continued to lecture on the social theory, research program, and therapeutic strategies he and Burrow developed. With the greatly reduced scientific staff, however, the volume of research and writing at the foundation decreased substantially.

In 1962, Syz retired from the New York Hospital and Cornell University Medical College. In the years immediately following his retirement, he devoted his energies to the placement, cataloguing and exhibition of his ceramics collection. Syz was a devoted collector of 18th-century European porcelain, and between 1941 and 1963 assembled 15,000 pieces representing nearly all major European factories. He published several articles based on his collection. His scholarship in ceramic arts documents Far Eastern influences on European decoration and design. In 1963, Syz donated his collection to the Ceramics Department of the Smithsonian Institution and helped organize its first exhibition in 1966. The Smithsonian Institution named Syz an Honorary Fellow in 1965. Syz continued to write and direct the foundation until his death in 1991 in Greens Farms, Connecticut.

Guide to the Hans Caspar Syz Papers
Under Revision
by J. Josephine Fueser
June 1998
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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